Parallels in the Art of Identification

Intricacies…

by Tony

It is truly amazing how Bird Identification and Butterfly & Moth Identification have very similar parallels. The intricacies of bird identification can run deep, especially in finite feather detail and we are always striving to age birds, i.e. 1st summer / 1st winter / near adult / juvenile etc, etc.
Birding Frontiers Website admirably demonstrates this, with so many pioneering articles on Bird Identification. The same processes can apply to the identification of Butterfles & Moths, the parallels are incredible, with one exception – we then really start to get intricate!!

Let me explain:-

Below we have three pairs of photos – 4 Butterfly species & 2 moth species.

Pair A: Wood White Butterflies

The Wood White Leptidea sinapis,  is found locally in Britain but is common across Europe. The Eastern Wood White Laptidea duponcheli, is found locally in SE Europe with small scattered colonies in SE France & Italy. Both species are almost identical in the field until you examine their Antennae!!
 On Eastern Wood White (duponcheli), the Club-head of the Antenna is all Grey/Brown with an orange tip (as marked). Whilst on Wood White (sinapis), the Club-head of the Antenna is Grey on the upperside & white on the underside with an orange tip (as marked). This is diagnostic on both species and is a crucial ID feature. However you have to look closely and know that this part of the ID criteria in the first place. This was a true learning curve for me during a recent trip to Bulgaria where both species exist side-by-side.
Image
Eastern Wood White- Leptidea duponcheli – Grey Antenna-head
Image
Wood White– Leptidea sinapis – White underside of Antenna-head

Pair B: Brown Argus and Common Blue

Two different species of common Butterfly both found in Britain & Europe but both are easily confused and miss-identified with regularity by the untrained eye.
Observing the underwing of both these butterflies is crucial to the ID Process.
In the Brown Argus – Aricia agestis, the two spots (as marked) on the underside of the hind wing are arranged one above the other but in the Common Blue – Polyommatus icarus, they are arranged (as marked) alongside each other.
Image
Brown Argus– Aricia agestis – underwing spots one above the other.
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Common Blue– Polyommatus icarus – underwing spots arranged alongside each other

Pair C: Prominent Moths

Two species of Prominent Moth, of the family Notodontidae and both species are reasonably common throughout Britain. In Lesser Swallow Prominent – Pheosia gnoma, there is a diagnostic bright white wedge-shaped “tornal streak” (as marked) but in Swallow Prominent – Pheosia tremula, the “tornal streak” is longer and less defined almost washed out.
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Lesser Swallow Prominent – Pheosia gnoma – white wedge-shaped “tornal streak”
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Swallow Prominent– Pheosia tremula – longer, slimmer and washed out “tornal streak”.
Over the forth coming months I hope to put together various articles on fascinating Butterfly & Moth identification processes, all of which are true learning curves. Also what Moths & Butterflies to look out for during our British Seasons. My thanks go to the many entomologists out there that have discovered many new identification processes, all helping to pave the way forward.
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9 Responses to Parallels in the Art of Identification

  1. julian w says:

    Look forward to more of this Tony, any chance of copper underwing/Svennson’s copper underwing id? Cheers Julian

    • tonydavisonsimplybirdsandmoths says:

      Hi Julian – Thanks for the comment and Yep good subject and one that is not easy but one which I intend tackling at some point. Watch this space.. Best regards Tony

  2. Mark Burgess says:

    There’s the Essex /small skipper (Thymelicus lineola/sylvestris) id, which also hinges on the tip of the antennae.

  3. tonydavisonsimplybirdsandmoths says:

    Hi Mark – The two skippers that you mention will feature at some point in the future
    Best regards
    Tony

  4. Karen says:

    Hi, I just saw a plain white butterfly. I would say medium in size with rounded wings. I have been searching Google (which is how I came across this page!) trying to figure out what it is called but cannot find it. The closest I have seen is one called the cabbage white? My daughter loves butterflies and whenever she sees a new one she has to identify it. This one is not on her butterfly chart! Thought you may be able to make some suggestions 🙂
    Thanks,
    Karen

    • Karen says:

      oh I saw it again. Has a row of black dots along the edge of the wing so thought it might be a large white!

    • Tony Davison says:

      Hi Karen – thks for your email – Difficult to confirm what your Butterfly is without a Photo. There are 3 White Butterflies that are common in Britain (assuming you are of course from the UK) – The Large White; Small White (often referred to as the Cabbage White) and the Green-veined White. All these three species have an amount of black on the wing tips. I ssupect your butterfly was a Small White but a photo would clintch the ID..
      The Small White is often called the Cabbage White (No such species) in the same way as gulls are called “Sea Gulls”. Hope this helps and keep on looking at Butterflies..

      Kind Regards
      Tony

      • Karen says:

        Oh, I see 🙂 Yes I am in the UK. I’m afraid it fluttered by so quickly that the first time I saw it go past the window, it was gone by the time I managed to get the door open. the second time we were much luckier (which is when I saw the black dots) but so excited we didn’t think of a photo 😦
        Well, I may see it again some day 🙂
        thanks for your reply!

  5. Tony Davison says:

    Hi Karen – thks for your email – Difficult to confirm what your Butterfly is without a Photo. There are 3 White Butterflies that are common in Britain (assuming you are of course from the UK) – The Large White; Small White (often referred to as the Cabbage White) and the Green-veined White. All these three species have an amount of black on the wing tips. I ssupect your butterfly was a Small White but a photo would clintch the ID..
    The Small White is often called the Cabbage White (No such species) in the same way as gulls are called “Sea Gulls”. Hope this helps and keep on looking at Butterflies..

    Kind Regards
    Tony

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